“I found a Pokémon in the yard!”
I chuckled as I listened to the excited voices outside my cousin’s home. Uncles, cousins and family friends all stared at their phones and wandered around. Soon my 13-year-old son, Rocco, was invited to “search” for the adorable Pokémon creatures on a nearby walking trail through a forest preserve. Thinking this was physical exercise, excellent male bonding time and a great way to enjoy nature, I gave him permission.
But when my mother found out, she reprimanded me for allowing my son to go where he could be in danger. As she bombarded me with scenes from the news of people being robbed at gunpoint, stumbling on dead bodies and other assorted mayhem, I panicked. What have I done? I thought. I’ve sent my baby off into the woods.
Fortunately, the boys returned 20 minutes later wearing bright smiles and planning their next outing. But I determined that no one was going anywhere until I figured out this game. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of Pokémon GO. People of all ages use their phones to hunt and trap Pokémon, train or takeover “gyms” and collect resources at Pokéstops, with the ultimate goal of becoming the greatest Pokémon trainer.
As a parent, my main interest isn’t in how many Pokémon my teen might find, but rather in how safe he remains. Although the game is innocent enough, teens still need to play smart and respect boundaries. Here are the rules I set:
Rule No. 1: Go with Friends
Since Rocco would be wandering all over the place, I wanted to make sure I knew the types of Pokéstops he’d frequent. While most were highly visible, some were more remote and not well lit. Those off-the-beaten-track stops seemed to be the potential problem areas.
I gave him the thumbs-up with conditions: He had to play in groups of friends, and he always needed to let an adult know where he planned to visit. He could absolutely not play alone or at night, even with friends, and since I knew he’d have his phone in hand, I requested a text every so often just to touch base. He was not allowed to be a back-seat navigator to catch a creature with an older teen driving.
Rule No. 2: Be Aware of Surroundings
I reminded Rocco to be aware of where he was at all times and consider if it were safe. Is he face-to-screen standing in the middle of a roller rink without skates? About to step into a creek? One step from tripping over a sleeping dog at the park? Going into a dark alley where a gang of teens is waiting?
It is never worth venturing into the road to try to capture a Pokémon creature — no matter how adorable it is. Parking lots can be dangerous areas as well. Once, when out with my son, we realized that the only place that he could access a specific gym was to stand in the middle of a busy restaurant parking lot. That was not an option.
I’ve also reminded my son to consider how what he’s doing may look to others. In our area, the police have received more than one call about suspicious activity that has turned out to be Pokémon GO related. After all, wouldn’t you be concerned if you saw a carload of strange males pulled up to the same corner store each day for a week, a group of teens walking through your neighbor’s yard or a group of kids seemingly loitering around the local art museum after hours?
Rule No. 3: Respect Property and Boundaries
“I was trying to catch a wild Weedle” will never be a good excuse for trespassing. Pokémon can pop up at any time and anywhere. This includes
private homes, churches, schools, stores, monuments, back alleys and even busy streets. Just because it’s popped up somewhere doesn’t mean it’s wise to catch it. That’s especially true at “sacred” places such as war memorials and cemeteries.
Even though some buildings and stores are open to the public, the building managers may not be keen on teens milling around the property looking for Pokémon. Some shopkeepers may consider gamers in their stores to be nuisances, especially if their business is not positively affected. I reminded my son to follow the rules of society and not be afraid to ask businesses if he can hunt for a creature on their property.
Rule No. 4: People are more important than imaginary creatures
I’ve tried to instill in my son that people are always more important than imaginary creatures. So real-life people should always come first when hunting and when collecting. What better way to model that — and to connect with him in a fun way — than to play, too!
I got my own account and tagged along — especially when I knew he and his friends were going to more remote Pokéstops. Instead of groaning about Mom going with him, he actually enjoys it, and it gives us something in common to talk about and connect over.
In addition to being a bonding tool, the game helps me gain perspective into his world. This humor and healthy competition helps fill our relationship with laughter.